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Sunday, 20 November 2011

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Dream road:

The Gateway to Wonder is ready!

The morning rush-hour traffic along High Level Road was worrying us a little bit when we were passing Nugegoda and Maharagama towns filled with huge traffic snarls as we were heading towards Kottawa the entry point to the ‘Gateway to Wonder’ the newest addition to the road network the E-1 road or the Southern Express way.

Development of Highlevel road was going on apace to make it feasible for the expected huge inflow of traffic on the Southern Expressway which has cut short the journey from Galle to Colombo by one hour, once it is commissioned on November 27, by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the true sense of opening the gateway to wonder for the country.

It was after passing the busy Kottawa junction on the A-4 Colombo- Wellawaya- Batticaloa road or famously known Highlevel road, a location filled with lot of ongoing construction work leads us to the entry point to the ‘Gateway to Wonder’ with a sign board indicating the distance to Galle as 105.4 Km.

As we reached the entry point a lot of thoughts entered our minds as many media reports have created misconceptions regarding the Expressway and we were about to exactly observe the operational mechanism of the road and the safety measures for motorists plying on the Expressway.

Many would have been puzzled with the huge construction work going on in Kottawa, as a part of the Southern Expressway but that is a part of the ongoing construction work of the Colombo Outer Circular road which connects the major road leading to outstations from the centre of Colombo which is to be added to the Expressway network at the end of next year.

As the construction of the interchange connecting the Southern Expressway and the Outer Circular road is still going on, a temporary entry point has been constructed in Kottawa to facilitate the opening of the section of the Southern Expressway from Kottawa to Pinnaduwa.

“The interchange at Kottawa is the most complex interchange in the Expressway to be constructed and once it is completed it will be fitted with 13 gates to facilitate the entry to the Southern Expressway and the Outer Circular Road. Until then we have constructed this new entry point”, Nimal Chandrasiri, project Director of the Southern Expressway explained.

Eectronic ticket

At the entry point any motorist has to obtain an electronic ticket from the toll gates to be submitted to the toll collector at the end of their destination and at every interchange, toll gates have been established to get the Expressway ready for commissioning. For each category of vehicles different rates have been given and the fee will also be decided depending on the distance they have travelled. It is not a flat rate.

According to Engineer Chandrasiri, eight interchanges are established for motorists to enter and exit from this limited access road for the first time in its history.

Everyone had doubts whether motorists can reach Galle in one hour. But minutes after entering the Expressway we did not even think of the speed of our bus as there was no reason for us to be uncomfortable in our seats.

But the meter reader in front of the driver indicated that bus was driven at a speed close to 100 KmPH which is impossible on any other road in Sri Lanka due to existing traffic laws. But the time has now come for Sri Lankans to have that rare experience of reaching their desired destinations within minutes. The unimaginable has overtaken imaginations and as a nation we are driven into the wonder in Asia with rapid changes taking place in the road network of the country. But there was no time to think any more and we had reached the next interchange on the Expressway.

It took less than four minutes for us to reach Kahathuduwa interchange located 7.6 Km from Kottawa connecting the Expressway to the Colombo-Horana road.

The next interchange is at Gelanigama, Bandaragama and it connects the Expressway with the Panadura-Ratnapura road. The Dodangoda interchange is located 21 Km from the Gelanigama interchange connecting the Mathugama-Agalawatta road to the Expressway.

Next we get to the Welipenna interchange 11 Km away from Dodangoda connecting the Horana-Mathugama-Aluthgama road to the Expressway.

After Welipenna you find the next interchange at Kurundugahahetekma with a gap of 20.7 km between the two interchanges and connecting the Expressway to the Ambalangoda- Elpitiya road. Next comes Baddegama interchange to connect the Expressway to Hikkaduwa -Baddegama road.

Galle entry road

Finally we reach Pinnaduwa to mark the end of the first phase of the Southern Expressway and within a few minutes after coming out of the Expressway, motorists can proceed either towards Galle town or towards Matara after entering the Galle-Matara road through the newly constructed Galle entry road.

“At each entry exit point we have differently designed interchanges and we have the most simple diamond type interchanges at Kahathuduwa, Dodangoda and Welipenna. At Gelanigama and Kurundugahahetekma we have folded Diamond shaped interchanges while at Pinnaduwa we are having trumpet-type interchange”, he added.

Guide

Though these interchanges are complex, if you follow directions given before reaching the interchange that will automatically guide to the correct point if the motorists are entering the Expressway with a clear view about their exact destination and from which point they can exit to reach their desired destination. Any motorist will not be uncomfortable as sign boards are there in all three languages along the Expressway to guide you to the desired destination.


Lush green foliage on either side of the Expressway is indeed eye catching

Clear directions are indicated along the way

A user fee office
Pix : Thilak Perera

As you pass these interchanges you will not feel bored as eye soothing sceneries keep you awake all the time. I heard someone complaining that he could not see people along the road as it is a limited access road.

However, the lush greenery coupled with the rural set-up take you away from the hustle and bustle of the city taking you to a dream world. Huge bridges across Bentara river and other tributaries and long stretches of paddy fields refresh your mind all the time throughout your journey. One thing you miss is the huge traffic snarls and busy city centres plus the scenic view of the coastal belt which is typical to Sri Lanka.

But the Southern Expressway puts your mind at ease till you reach your destination.

You have to be doubly sure that you are on the correct lane and be mindful of other motorists. Therefore, safety is of prime concern of the Road Development Authority and the Police who are ready for the Expressway once it is commissioned. B.D.K. Bandara, Director Operations, Management and Maintenance of the Southern Expressway said once the Expressway construction is completed the RDA has to take over the responsibility of operations and maintenance.

“We have three offices and we have set up our head office at Gelanigama and 500 officers from the RDA and 500 officers from the Police Department have been deployed for various duties. The Police is assisting us in accident services, emergency situations and also to tackle other situations that may arise”, he added.

“We have brought new machines for the maintenance of the road and fire operations. We also have a paramedic unit and facilities to control any accident or fire. As we consider this road a special road, officials will be deployed on a 24-hour-basis on seven days of the week”, he added.

At the same time the Police and RDA officials are monitoring vehicles plying on the road on CCTV cameras.

“At the CCTV control room, Police and RDA officials will be there and can detect any high speed motorists as we have imposed 100 Kmph as the maximum speed”, he said. At the initial stage, the areas around the interchanges will be monitored through CCTV cameras as a large number of accidents on Expressways are reported close to interchanges.

Three Emergency Centres have been located at Gelanigama, Kurundugahahetekma and Pinnaduwa. At each Emergency Centre, two ambulances, fire vehicles and water bowsers are ready.

“In the event of an accident, we have RDA vehicles and Police vehicles on a 24-hours basis and RDA vehicles and Police vehicles will ply between two interchanges every time and can detect any accident within a few minutes”, he added.

According to Bandara, at any minute there are four vehicles operating between two interchanges and the Police have a radio unit. When these mobile patrols informs the emergency call centre, that message will be passed onto all eight interchanges.

“Within one minute they can be made aware about the accident and Emergency Units will act according to the level of the accident. If there is fire the fire brigade will reach there and paramedics will also be there. Within one or two minutes they can access the spot where an accident has occurred”, he added.

Motorists in an accident or any other incident affecting them can call on 1969 to inform Police about the incident. “They have to give the location from the sign boards put up along the road indicating the distance”, he added.

During night time, motorists should make use of the diamond shaped indicator to make other people aware that they have met with an accident.

For these operations we have provided nine cars to the Police, nine motorbikes with 900 Hp, six ambulances and two ambulance for each Emergency Centre, two fire engins and water bowser for each centre.

“These vehicles have been purchased solely for this purpose and they will be stationed at Emergency Centres on a 24-hour basis. Apart from these vehicles, RDA officials have also been provided with vehicles to monitor the Expressway at any time of the day,” he added.

At the same time, motorists have also been instructed to be mindful of the condition of vehicles before entering the Expressway as any breakdown will lead to accidents.

“It is better for motorists to decide whether the vehicle is fit to be driven on the Expressway”, he added.

“If any vehicle faces a breakdown on the Expressway, they will be towed out by vehicles deployed by the RDA,” he added.

The RDA is now planning to provide booklets to motorists indicating the points where they can get services in the event of an accident.

The road has been designed to minimise accidents and to prevent  head on collisions.

While many workers are still toiling to make this dream road a reality and to fine tune the Expressway for the grand opening next Sunday under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa we returned on the same route thinking that the impossible has been made possible in a short space of time!

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